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What Is A Mechanical Keyboard?

May 22, 2023

Not too fond of the newer keyboards and prefer a more retro look and feel? Jump on the mechanical keyboard bandwagon. They were once considered old-school technology, but now they’re gaining popularity due to how well they work. Before you buy, learn how to shop for one and what all the lingo means.

Also Helpful: Once you learn about these keyboards, you can build your own custom mechanical keyboard.

What makes a mechanical keyboard so special? Some might tell you it's the satisfying click when you type, but it's actually the spring-activated switch under each key. This is vastly different than the scissor and rubber membrane switches under most laptop and desktop keyboards that come with your computer.

With other types of keyboards, you have to press the key all the way down for the switch under the button to register your keystroke. This means typing harder, which not only slows down your typing but can also result in more mistakes.

Mechanical keyboards register your keystroke even if you press the key halfway down. As you can imagine, this means less pressure on your fingers and hands, leading to faster typing and responses. For writers and gamers, speed is always welcome.

Another unique feature is how easy it is to customize these keyboards. You can customize the keycaps, body frames, switch type (more later), and even the cable itself (many are wired). Unleash your creativity with custom color keycaps and create a unique work or game station for your personality.

Before buying one, there are several important factors to consider to find the perfect keyboard.

While some mechanical keyboards come in weird shapes, most come in standard keyboard shapes. However, you still have multiple options, even in the standard shape.

While even more compact models are available, they’re pretty useless as they don't even have a row of numbers. If you’re looking for a compact keyboard for travel, it's best to rely on a folding Bluetooth keyboard instead.

Usually, the weird-shaped mechanical keyboards are either ergonomic or gaming keyboards. Sometimes, these have a split in the middle or come in two separate pieces to adjust to your preferred working/gaming style.

Tip: If you spend a lot of time typing, an ergonomic mechanical keyboard may provide better comfort and relieve tension in your hands and wrists.

Every key in a mechanical keyboard has a spring switch under it. The great news is you get the choose the type of switch. The switch affects how a key feels when you press it and even the sound it makes.

There are three main types to choose from:

There are also optical and gaming switches, which come in all three varieties above. However, they’re designed differently to have faster response times.

Something else to know is there are numerous variations of these switch types. Some require more or less force to activate, and some are louder or quieter. You can also get standard and silent tactile and linear switches.

To get an idea of what's available, check out this list of over 500 switches. The most popular brand is Cherry MX.

If you want to test out switches before buying a keyboard, buy a switch key tester. These are color-coded to let you feel and hear the differences. Try the Max Keyboard Cherry MX Switch Tester or Griarrac Cherry MX Switch Tester. It's cheaper to do this than keep buying keyboards with switches you don't like.

Good to Know: As long as the frame supports it, you can swap out your mechanical keyboard switches and try other options.

Despite popular belief, mechanical keyboards don't have to be noisy. Tactile and linear switches are relatively quiet. Of course, you can still hear your fingers hitting the keys, but that's true with any keyboard.

For instance, I have a Logitech mechanical keyboard with tactile switches that hardly makes a sound. I’ve had clicky switches before and wasn't a fan because it made it hard to hear my background music.

The lesson is that you get to choose your noise level. Choose the right switch to meet your desired noise level. For the quietest option, opt for silent linear and tactile switches. For mostly quiet, stick with standard linear switches. Tactile switches are only slightly louder. If you want a noisy keyboard, clicky switches are your best friend.

Also Helpful: If you specifically want a quiet keyboard, we recommend these top silent mechanical keyboards.

Just like with other types of keyboards, mechanical keyboards also come in ergonomic varieties. Just the way the keys press down is more ergonomic. However, your hands and wrists should have a few more ergonomic features, such as:

Tip: If you’re concerned about wrist issues with keyboard use, you can try a low-profile mechanical keyboard instead.

One of your easiest decisions to make is to go wired or wireless. Initially, mechanical keyboards were mainly wired. Now, you’ll find a growing selection of wireless mechanical keyboard options.

Wired keyboards have a more stable and faster connection. But, you’re tied down to the cord. This can limit your setup and make taking your keyboard on the go difficult.

With wireless keyboards, there's no pesky cord to worry about. But you’ll have to deal with a least a little latency. If you’re not gaming, that's probably not a big issue. For gamers, wired keyboards are preferable.

Another thing to think about is compatibility. Mechanical keyboards come in both Windows and Mac varieties. You don't have to settle. Some work with both or let you program the keys accordingly.

Many mechanical keyboards offer a variety of additional features. These aren't critical to keyboard use but are a nice bonus.

Some optional features include:

Keychron and Razer mechanical keyboards are some of the best around. However, no mechanical keyboard is better than the rest since many keyboard features are up to user preference.

If you’ve been shopping around, you’ve likely noticed these aren't as cheap as other keyboards. These are made to be more durable and last longer. A single mechanical keyboard will probably outlast several non-mechanical keyboards for busy typists or gamers. Consider the cost of an investment that’ll pay for itself over time.

Wireless mechanical keyboards are convenient, but you’re tied to a battery. If it stops, so do you. Older models had terrible battery life, but newer models in the last few years can last months or years on a set of batteries. Some are even rechargeable, meaning no buying extra batteries.

If you want an RGB-lighted wireless keyboard, expect your battery to drain quickly. The lights will significantly reduce your battery life. This and latency are why gamers prefer a wired setup.

Image credit: Unsplash

Crystal Crowder has spent over 15 years working in the tech industry, first as an IT technician and then as a writer. She works to help teach others how to get the most from their devices, systems, and apps. She stays on top of the latest trends and is always finding solutions to common tech problems.

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Also Helpful: Full Size: Tenkeyless: Compact: Tip: Clicky: Tactile: Linear: Good to Know: Also Helpful: Split: Built-in Wrist Pad: Adjustable Height: Raised: Tip: RGB Lighting: Keyboard Software: Hot Swapping Switches: Keycaps: Affiliate Disclosure: